Where Do You See Dance Going in the Next 80 Years?

August 21, 2007
Celebrating our anniversary isn’t only about where we’ve come from, but where we’re heading. We asked some of the creative thinkers in our field to look into their crystal ball and predict the future of dance. Here they share their visions— some realistic, some utopian, and some tongue-in-cheek.
Karole Armitage

artistic director, Armitage Gone! Dance
I hope our culture will see quality of life as something more complex than attaining fame and fortune. We need a counterculture to shake things up so that our world is more dynamic, less celebrity-oriented and boringly corporate. It takes a lot of work to make a nice product that is easy to market and package. But that is not art. An artist’s life is about taking chances and making discoveries. I hope there will be more vision and less imitation in the future.
Lauren Anderson

outreach associate, Houston Ballet
As much as technology can be a useful tool, I would not want to see it replace the time-honored process of passing on the art, person to person, dancer to dancer. With the packed rehearsal schedules many companies work under these days, I sometimes fear that technology is taking over. Dancers are learning roles from videos, but you can’t achieve artistry from looking at a screen. Even if it takes time, there’s no substitute for careful artistic coaching of the kind I enjoyed throughout my career. We must not lose that. It’s not good enough to keep cranking out ballets if the quality is missing. I hope I can play a role in helping young dancers understand what it is to become a true artist.
Ohad Naharin

artistic director, Batsheva Dance Company
Global warming, shortage of oil, nuclear disasters, and international terrorism will make people stay at home. You’ll be afraid to go out. People will have few resources and little money. So they’ll dance. It will be the thing to do at home, or the thing to do for quality of life rather than for the sake of the “performing arts.” People will still be able to communicate and learn from each other, but never face to face.
I need to be a little more optimistic. Very advanced technology will monitor the relationship between teachers and students. This technology will have the ability to measure the fear factor between students and teachers. It will also be able to measure the love factor. Teachers who will be found afraid of their students will be disallowed to teach. Teachers who will be found loving their students, they will become the leaders of the world.
Donald Byrd

artistic director, Spectrum Dance Theater
I don’t think anything revolutionary will change dance technologically until there’s a delivery system that translates what it’s like to experience dance live into an electronic medium with the same level of visceral, kinesthetic response. Dance needs to have that. If economics continue the way they are, there will be multiple artistic centers around the country. As for myself, because I’m inquisitive and haven’t done just one thing, I hope that I can be a model for the artists who follow their vision regarding different types of movement and contexts, that somebody will say, “That’s what that black man did,” and that it took a black person to do it. Not to play the race card, but when you are not easily categorized and you’re black, it’s a little bit harder.
Miguel Gutierrez

The future of this form is not necessarily
Swan Lake
forever. If you look at other fields, there is an ability to stay relevant and contemporary. With dance, I feel like it’s such a struggle in the United States. You’re dealing with so much conservatism. I can turn on the computer any day and download super-contemporary cutting-edge music, but I have to wait for my friends to do a show once every millennium in New York for new dance.
America is about contradiction. We want art to be relevant, and we live in a culturally strong country, yet arts education is not a priority. Then how do you have an arts audience? I don’t think the future is on YouTube or MySpace, it lies in our ability to experience the intelligence and sensitivity and uniqueness of what this form can do.
Merce Cunningham

artistic director, Merce Cunningham Dance Company
Technology will be used more. Eventually you can push buttons to make dances. Whether one likes it or not, it will exist. I myself would find it interesting because even though you do it that way, you still like to put it on the dancer. The whole change in technology that has happened involves us all in one way or another. They said the automobile wasn’t going to last, but look how it took over. You’re going to be able to have something in the palm of your hand and make a dance with it. But you still have to eat with your mouth, and with dancing, it does involve the human body. What we’re getting is a visual technology. I think there will be dance performances on the Internet because it’s a visual medium.
Denise Jefferson

director, The Ailey School
Technology will make dance more visible and create a whole new form of virtual collaboration. There will be new dance techniques; for example, Bill Forsythe and his method of improvisation and generating movement is a system that his dancers can teach. I hope traditional dance techniques (ballet, Graham, Horton, etc.) will maintain purity. Teachers will have to be more aware of the results as they train dancers. I see the line between dancer and athlete moving closer, with more cross-training happening. The house of dance training will maintain a certain amount of discipline. It has to. Dance is a discipline.
Trey McIntyre

artistic director, Trey McIntyre Project
I see the process of creating dance becoming more visible. Audiences are most affected when they can be involved along the way and not just show up at the end. Whether they see footage or attend a rehearsal, I see people hooking in with the choreographic process.
As artists we are going to become less hoarding about our work. The idea of holding onto something as our property will shift drastically. Dance might get more disposable. There is so much about the live, ephemeral moment that you can’t hold on to.
Rennie Harris

artistic director, Rennie Harris Puremovement
I actually don’t see dance going anywhere. All we do is repeat the same cycle. For 10 years it’s all about multimedia and fusion. Another 10 years and it’s about diversity and purity. The next generation will begin to explore everything that’s already been explored. They’ll have to speak for themselves and the way they see things. That’s what makes it innovative, because it’s a different voice, telling the same story again. I don’t know what my contribution is going to be. I can only say that I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing until I get hit in the head with a brick.
Joanna Haigood

artistic director, Zaccho Dance Theatre
I am hoping that dance becomes reintegrated into our personal and community practice. Dance was an important part of who we were, both personally and socially, at the turn of the 19th century, but we’ve become detached from that. In the 20th century, social dances up to the ’40s and ’50s were important. Then disco came and it disappeared. Obviously there are still dances in a social context—hip hop for example. But fewer and fewer people have a dance practice as part of their daily lives.
If you go to Buenos Aires, you see everybody from little kids up to the elderly dancing several times a week. It’s not just a way of getting exercise; it’s also part of their spiritual development. We’ve had periods when dancing in religious circles was forbidden or limited. If we have an opportunity to bring the mind and body together, to have social interactions that are expressive beyond the verbal realm, tapping into the animal nature, we gain another level of experience and a new perspective.
Tabitha D’umo

commercial choreographer
Television shows like
So You Think You Can Dance
and Dancing with the Stars are bringing dance to the forefront, instead of just backing up a singer in a music video or stage show. The public seems to be responding to it.
I would love to see a shift toward incorporating more current, popular movement on Broadway. It would have to be clever enough so that it can appeal to the masses. If it’s camouflaged and presented in a way that’s universal—you don’t have to market it as a hip hop production because movement is movement—then I think everybody would love it.
Brenda Way

artistic director, ODC Dance
My fantasy is that unbelief will become the religion of the time, and that people will turn to the arts as the source of inspiration and moral consciousness, that performing arts will stand in for church, and that everyone will participate as well as spectate.
What I’m seeing now is the isolation of the computer era. We’re developing community around performative events that we’ve lost in other ways. Who knew that the radical thing at the turn of the century would be performing in public, that the amazing new thing is bringing people together again? The public conversation, which used to be among intellectuals and newspaper writers (who are no longer on the job), is moving to YouTube and MySpace. It means that performing artists are going to find a way into the public conversation again.